2013, 94mins, 15
Director: Brad Anderson
Writer: Richard D'Ovidio
Cast includes: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Michael Eklund, Morris Chestnut, David Otunga
UK Release Date: 20th September 2013
There are 20 minutes of prime suspense in Brad Anderson’s “The Call”, a thriller that acts as a love letter to the Emergency Services; rather bizarrely backed by WWE Studios. The aforementioned segment occurs just after Abigail Breslin’s young kidnap victim is forcibly hauled into the truck of a psychopath’s car, unbeknownst to him in possession of a spare cell phone. She proceeds to dial 911, finding Halle Berry’s traumatised operator eager to help, the two frantically attempting to locate the hostage using a series of intrepid tricks. This segment is primed with believable panic and solid acting from the ladies in question, edited together energetically by Anderson and his crew, to form a tight and engaging example of lo-fi excitable film-making. Unfortunately this is all “The Call” has going for it, the rest of the picture taking a more offensively slack-jawed approach, culminating in a finish equal parts dumb, laughable and clichéd.
Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is a 911 operator recovering from a recent ordeal, one in which her lack of focus contributed to the demise of a young woman. Struggling to recuperate, Jordan is thrown back in the deep-end when she receives a frenzied call from Casey (Abigail Breslin), a distressed teen claiming to have just been abducted. Locked in the boot of an unknown vehicle, Casey pleads for help, despite the fact her phone is untraceable and her location impossible to pinpoint. Utilizing every method in the book and forming a bond with the frightened victim, Jordan steels herself for the ultimate challenge; trying to tilt the insurmountable odds in Casey’s favour.
“The Call” is stupid, silly and generally unpleasant, but it manages to boast a few attractive assets. The 911 “Hive” where Jordan works is detailed with believable levels of caffeinated urgency, depicting a workplace with stresses like few others. It’s all ringing handsets, exhausted supervisors and heroic courage; allowing the movie to capture the sound and important work performed by this vital outlet. Basically, “The Call” makes a pretty compelling argument for why you should pay taxes. Similarly I don’t have much negative to say concerning Berry or Breslin, who support the feature as a double-act. They’re left high and dry by a screenplay that provides each with only surface level motivations and no tangible depth, but both actresses have sufficient screen command to lend their respective roles some weight. There’s also the tense segment noted earlier in the review, which indicates just how taught and gripping this little thriller might’ve been had it been willing to play things straighter and tighten its runtime by 20 minutes. Sadly Anderson loses control of the picture’s scarier faculties, allowing things to become dominated by offensively cringey twists and moronic bursts of action. Some of the actions conducted by certain figures are extremely foolish (particularly the antagonist, portrayed with coked-up crazy eyes by Michael Eklund), leaving the film’s credibility stained on multiple counts of storytelling shoddiness.
The final act is more comedy than anything else, allowing screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio a chance to unleash a clumsy hybrid of “The Lovely Bones”, “Silence of the Lambs” and “Saw”, complete with dull procedural work performed via charmless cops and a transformation in Berry that decimates any semblance of realism or consistent tone. Of course we find out the villain has a dirty and insanely cheapening fascination with Casey, leading to unnecessary scenes of the young actress in her underwear and subjected to unimaginative and tiresome moments of torture. It’s hard to stress just how flimsily conceived and lazy “The Call” is during its dying stretch- repeating predictable jump cuts and embarrassing instances of freaky man-child over-acting – with the egregiously unearned and ridiculous choices that Berry’s damaged heroine makes providing ugly icing on the cake. It transforms itself into schlock of the worst kind – tawdry, tasteless and dull – indeed the only thing that separates it from a straight to VHS thriller circa 2000 is the fact Berry doesn't strip down once. That’s no bad thing, but it’s a fierce indicator of how outdated this feature is, there’s just no demand for its lurid anti-thrills in today’s pop-cultural climate.
The audience whom I watched it with emitted a loud and intriguingly mixed reaction to the piece. During the short segment where the movie so ably endows viewers with the POV of a hopeless hostage they shrieked and gasped in all the right places, and sat silently for the rest. However it didn't take long for people to start fidgeting and as things developed, unintentional giggles became more and more frequent. “The Call” is incredibly unsophisticated, designed for Friday night punters and casual cinema-goers. However even they audibly fell out of love with the movie during its theoretically neat 94 minutes (it feels longer). If you can’t satisfy the customer who likes everything, then you sure as hell won’t impress those who seek a little more from their entertainment. In that regard “The Call” is a sour, dopey flop; unable to deliver anything worthwhile aside from the odd, sparse moment of competence.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013